Having once written articles under tight deadlines in a wide-open newsroom, I am used to a noisy workplace. Indeed, I prefer to work amidst hustle and bustle and can tune out most conversations around me. I was correcting a proof of my book King’s Gambit: A Father, a Son, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game at a coffee shop called Verb while overhearing—and largely ignoring—a conversation at the next table. (Verb is the place I go when I’m in Brooklyn in the afternoon and want only decaf, which my favorite Brooklyn morning spot, Gimme Coffee, which makes the best cup of coffee in the world, is too hip to serve.)
“You could send you story to McSweeney’s,” one twenty-something dude told the other. “You can find the address on-line. Your story would appeal to the David Eggers crowd. Then again, you might want to reach a larger audience. The themes you write about are universal. Don’t just send it out to random publishers. It will be lost in their slush piles. You need an agent.”
“I don’t know how to get an agent.”
“My girlfriend can help you. She knows an agent.”
The conversation went on in this general way for half an hour, and I only perked up when the unpublished author inquired why the themes he wrote about were universal.
“Well,” his coffee companion said, “You were born in Puerto Rico. Your father died in 9/11. You went to jail. And now you’re a fine man who has made something of himself.”
Now I listened closely, dying to know why he had been incarcerated. But, to my dismay, the two men just quietly nursed their lattes and finally left, without revealing anything else personal.